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"Biography" Henry Fonda: Hollywood's Quiet Hero (1997)

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Henry Jaynes Fonda Transforms Withdrawal into Dynamic Portrayals

8/10
Author: WeatherViolet from United States
14 March 2010

Richard Kiley narrates this account of the life and career of Henry Jaynes Fonda, from his Grand Island, Nebraska, birth into the family of a printer, which soon afterward relocates to Omaha, as the family welcomes two daughters.

Henry remains quiet, backward and reserved throughout his childhood, when, as a teen, he works part-time at his father's print shoppe, and plans for a career in Journalism, upon entering the University of Minnesota several years later.

Rather than remaining in college, however, Henry withdraws after two years, to return to a series of odd jobs around Omaha, while embarking upon his newfound interest in the stage, participating in Omaha Community Playhouse, at which he receives a lead role in the Comedy "Merton of the Movies," as he, by now, becomes billed as "Henry Fonda."

In 1927, Henry's aspirations to achieve a stage career lead him to Cape Cod Playhouse, in Massachusetts, to join the new University Players, under the direction of Joshua Logan, with fellow performers as future film stars Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart.

In 1931, Henry and Virginia-born Margaret Sullavan marry and plan to relocate to New York City, to attempt Broadway, after appearing in minor roles there, but the plans do not reach fruition, as they soon call off their marriage, and so Henry accompanies life-long friend James Stewart to Broadway, where Henry appears in "New Faces of 1934" during the spring and summer of this year.

Hollywood Talent Agent Leland Hayward takes notice of Henry's performance and convinces him to join his roster of film clients, while appearing in "The Farmer Takes a Wife" (1934-35). 20th Century Fox Studio Chief Darryl F. Zanuck notices Henry and convinces him to sign opposite leading lady Janet Gaynor for the film adaptation.

Throughout the 1930's, Zanuck attempts to coax Fonda into signing a film contract, but the reluctant rising new star continuously avoids a long-term commitment, a trait uncharacteristic of many Hollywood film actors during the years of the Studio System. It won't be until 1940, when Zanuck manages to persuade Henry to sign, after wheeling and dealing a few tricks up his sleeve.

Henry's tenure at 20th is interrupted by his active service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, in which he is stationed aboard a battleship in the South Pacific, which is attacked by enemy warfare.

Returning to his family, which has experienced a great deal of strain during Henry's absence, Henry decides to withdraw into acting again, as roles at other studios during loan-outs serve Henry better than several at his home studio.

After his second marriage crumbles, Henry decides to return to Broadway for several years, to star in several Plays, including "Mister Roberts" (1948–51), "Point of No Return" (1951-52), "The Caine Mutiny" (1954–55), "Two for the Seesaw" (1958–59) and "A Gift of Time" (1962), among other productions.

His five marriages are shared with Margaret Sullavan (1931-32), Frances Ford Seymour (1936-50), Susan Blanchard (1950-56), Afdera Franchetti (1957-61) and Shirlee Mae Adams (1965-82). With his marriage to Frances Ford Seymour, Henry receives one step-daughter, one daughter, one adopted daughter, and one son.

Interview Guests for this episode consist of Shirlee Fonda (Wife), Actress Jane Fonda (Daughter), Actors Peter Fonda (Son), Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard and Anthony Quinn, Director Mark Rydell and Biographer Kevin Sweeney.

Archive footage includes Henry Fonda with Co-stars Fred MacMurray, Bette Davis, Don Ameche, Tyrone Power, Claudette Colbert, Irving Bacon, Jane Darwell, Guy Kibbee, Barbara Stanwyck and others in speaking parts, plus Dana Andrews, Victor Mature and others in non-speaking parts.

Film Clips include a screen glimpse of Henry through the years, in scenes from "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" (1936), "Jezebel" (1938), "The Story of Alexander Graham Bell" (1939), "Jesse James" (1939), "Young Mr. Lincoln" (1939), "Drums Along the Mohawk" (1939), "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940), "Chad Hanna" (1940), "The Magnificent Dope" (1942), "Rings on Her Fingers" (1942), "The Lady Eve" (1941), "The Ox-Bow Incident" (1943), "My Darling Clementine" (1946), "Fort Apache" (1948), "Mister Roberts" (1955), "12 Angry Men" (1957), "The Tin Star" (1957), "Warlock" (1959), "The Longest Day" (1962), "The Best Man" (1964), "Midway" (1976), "The Swarm" (1978), "On Golden Pond" (1981), as well as television's "The Smith Family" (1971-1972).

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